Summer begins…

Sunset June 22… Same western sky at dawn, June 23… Fog over the New River, Radford, Va., hills of Pulaski, Montgomery, or Giles counties and West Virginia beyond.

Technically, summer solstice 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere was at 11:31 p.m., June 20, but it took me a couple of days to get the camera phone pointed in the right direction at the right time.

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Posted in 2021, Radford, summer

Local SW Va News Sites

I’ve been making a bookmark list of newspapers and alternative sources of information about Southwestern Virginia (where I live) …

Given the title of this blog, I might as well put the list here as a shortcut for others who also might want to break out of a Facebook addiction now and then…

I’m also interested in the ownership and content-management systems for the papers, their similarities and functionality, or lack thereof. I’ll come back to this page and add information about media ownership, etc., now and then. I have a theory that along with maximizing profits, chain owners make technology and design decisions that cripple creativity and originality at some of these websites.

I’ll leave the comments section below open for suggestions of publications I’ve missed.

The Roanoke Times (Lee Enterprises)

Southwest Va Today (Lee Enterprises non-daily papers, Floyd, Wytheville, etc.)

Bristol Herald-Courier (Lee Enterprises)

The Southwest Times (Pulaski County, Pulaski, Dublin)

Pulaski County Patriot

Mountain Media — Virginia group of Virginia non-dailies owned by W.V. company, including Montgomery Messenger, Radford News-Journal and more.

The Virginian Leader (Giles County)

The Carroll News (Hillsville, Carroll County)

The Gazette (Galax, Grayson, Carroll counties) (Landmark Community Newspapers)

The Declaration (Independence, Grayson County) (Landmark Community Newspapers)

The Appalachian Voice (NC-Va-Tenn based environmental-issues “paper“)

Avoiding the middleman: Raw press releases from various institutions

Radford University

Virginia Tech

New River Community College (Dublin, Pulaski County)

U.S. Attorney Cases western Virginia

Virginia State Police News Releases

Other Virginia News Sites (now and then visiting SW Va

Virginia Public Media news page; Virginia Public Radio, WVTF Radio IQ

Public News Service … Virginia page

Virginia Dogwood (Courier Newsroom)


Inspiration strikes twice:
Six months ago I created a “web page” titled “Local News in Crisis” up on the main menu out of a similar train of thought to the one that inspired this blog post. I had forgotten about it! It has some duplication with this list, but also some more-general, critical and academic articles, while this blog post focuses on just news organizations and institutional press releases.

Posted in 2021, community, Journalism, Newspapers, Roanoke Times, Southwestern Va, Virginia

April 2021

So happy to be casting a shadow on green grass again… For my outside the area friends, this is Rocky Knob recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, above Rock Castle Gorge and looking off across the Piedmont… on April 13, 2021.

Coincidentally, that was the 14th anniversary of the job interview that brought me to the area to teach journalism, website production and other media studies topics at Radford University. The mountains and related music made accepting the job … and retiring as soon as I could… a good decision.

And April 8th blossoms at the Smart View Recreation Area, also on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Posted in 2021, Blue Ridge Parkway

Deja pandemic vu …

Just a few posts down below this one in this underutilized blog is one from 11 months ago… Which I hadn’t looked at in a while … until I wanted to show a non-Facebook friend some pictures from this region (all by me)… Turns out two of the March 2020 pictures were quite similar to pictures I have taken in the past month. So here is a fresh batch…

Still happy to be here in southwest Virginia. Waiting for the music to come back…

The picture is… Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway… Trail’s cabin a bit farther north at the Smart View recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this year with turkey vultures on the chimney and the first buds on neighboring trees that suffered a pretty nasty February ice storm.

For Saint Patrick’s Day, no shamrocks, but I did find a green rock… At the Rocky Knob hiking trails, also on the Blue Ridge Parkway. And then an optimistic sunset from home, and evidence that I have not just been cruising the parkway taking pictures, but took time to vote in a special election, and get vaccinated. At this point I’m hoping the vaccine has a much more powerful effect then voting for a Democrat candidate in a gerrymandered Republican coal country district..

Last two pix are me and a sunset view from my house — looking westerly across the New River to Pulaski, Montgomery and Giles counties, with West Virginia over the farthest hilltop.

Meanwhile, even though I’ve been neglecting this blog, I’ve been putting in quite a few hours updating pages and posts at, my audio-rich meditation on the portrayal of newspaper journalists in radio dramas. If you would rather listen to things and look at pictures, head on over there!

Posted in 2020, 2021, Appalachia, Radford, the Blue Ridge Parkway

2021 to-do list

1. Resume using this blog…

2. Don’t just take pictures out the window and sit in the kitchen watching your beard grow.

Posted in Uncategorized

Where did 2020 go?

I’m afraid my Facebook habit, with a bit of Twitter on the side, and my other blog, all conspired to keep me from writing anything here for a long time!

After seeing it on Facebook, a friend has told me that this photograph of mine, of the New River Bridge in Radford, Virginia, should be on the cover of something…

The Radford New River railroad bridge and an October sunset, by Bob Stepno, copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved, etc etc.
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Posted in Uncategorized

March-April 2020 memories

The first-Saturday in March Floyd Radio Show is the oldest picture in this batch, followed by weeks of solitary walks off the Blue Ridge Parkway, whimsical experiments with homemade masks, and watching for signs of normalcy. All thanks to a world pandemic that hasn’t made many people sick and this corner of Virginia, but has inspired music venues, schools, colleges, restaurants and more to close doors, don masks, and figure out a new way of getting through the weeks for a while. Take out food, walks in the woods, and music for the living room furniture are my plan, such as it is.

As April ended, I wrote this in a Facebook discussion of mask-wearing and mask-resistance:

Just back from having my car serviced. Customer area inside is closed… You have to wait at well-spaced chairs and benches outside… Customers, while I was there, were mostly older guys like me with bandanas around our necks, where they could be pulled up over the mouth and nose if needed… you know, to hold up a stagecoach or something.

Staff members at the dealerships were standing in groups of three or four talking, no masks. Some had gloves on.

When the car was finished… The guy bringing out the clipboard with sales form to sign was also unmasked. The dealership says it is “sanitizing” cars before and after service. But with no one on the staff actually wearing masks to talk to each other or customers, we customers looked silly with our bandanas. One white haired customer out of a half-dozen did have a serious-looking medical face mask and kept it on while sitting on one of the more isolated outdoor chairs.

Important to note, the dealership is in the New River Valley four-county (184,500 pop; 1,461 sq mi) health district that by late April had only 8 hospitalizations and only one covid-19 fatality. For comparison, that land area is larger than Rhode Island, with less than one-fifth the population.


This post is also an experiment with uploading a batch of photographs from my phone to WordPress without compressing them or doing anything special with the page layout. The display may work better on some browsers, worse on othersuntil I tweak it from a full size computer.

Posted in 2020, Appalachia, hyperlocal, personal, photography, Radford, Stepno, Virginia

Sunset moon and venus above

Friends liked these shots of mine on Facebook… The poor little smartphone crashed a few times trying to get them… Click either picture for more detail.

This post is also an experiment with internet idiosyncrasies. Those two photographs were actually downloaded from Facebook and upload it to WordPress. Now I’m going to add the originals below, directly from my phone to see whether there are noticeable differences in the detail or resolution…

On first attempt, the smaller Sunset and Moon image uploaded okay, but the taller one including Venus was just too large a file to upload from my phone with its WordPress app and timed out during the upload process, leaving a “broken image” icon on the screen.

I will come back to this later with my laptop and see whether I have forgotten something about image file size, storage or upload limitations in my WordPress account. Meanwhile, filing under “making the hours go by during pandemic social distancing.”

Posted in 2020, personal, photography, Radford

Coronavirus escape into 1920

With a combination of LibriVox and Project Gutenberg editions, I have just finished my first Coronavirus isolation novel… That is, the book I started reading at bedtime around the same time the virus alerts began… turning back the clock an even century.

And it coincidentally is about a woman practicing a certain amount of social distancing herself… In a New York garrett a century ago, leading a double life as a costumed crime-fighter, of sorts. She learned to use a revolver from her father while they were in South America and he was a mining engineer. Her “costume” is really just an added veil to keep her face hidden. She does more dressing-up in her secret identity disguise, as Gypsy Nan, member of an underworld gang.

The fact that the book was published in 1920 and had the word “white” in the title had me a bit concerned that I was about to enter a world of anachronistic overt racism…

But, no, “The White Moll” — a social worker style do-gooder turned armed vigilante — gets her name from the era’s colloquial use of the word “white” — as dated as saying “You can look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls”, instead of telling someone to do a Google search.

Of course I just happened to have a 1918 Funk & Wagnalls handy, so I did look it up:

“White: (Pop.) Fair and honorable, straightforward, honest.”

<<“Meet de moll I was tellin’ youse about, Mag. She’s white—all de way up. She’s white, Mag; she’s a white moll—take it from me.”
The White Moll!>>

So, at first she becomes what a police officer derisively calls…
<<“The White Moll, the Little Saint of the East Side, that lends a helping hand to the crooks to get ’em back on the straight and narrow again!”>>

Coincidentally, our heroine’s real name is Rhoda Gray, and she was created by the same author who created another New York underworld vigilante with a dual identity, called The Gray Seal, a pre-1920 precursor of The Green Hornet.

I have been falling asleep to a chapter or two a night of the LibriVox audio book version, 21 chapters worth. Being able to search for text in the one big page Project Gutenberg text version provided a great supplement at the breakfast table when I was trying to make sure I had fallen asleep during anything important!

The writing is a bit florid at times, but Librivox reader Rowdy Delaney is very good and saves you the trouble of being distracted by the slang spellings with all those “de moll I was tellin’ youse about” constructions intended to convey the uneducated under classes. The world of dimly candle lit tenement apartments, filthy alleyways and predatory crooks with colorful slang names was a great escape. It really picked up speed toward the end, even including a dramatic car chase! It is a shame the silent film version, which also came out in 1920, is on the Lost films list!

The novel also gives the impression of having been serialized in a magazine, because there are occasional passages that remind you of what has gone before in ways that work very nicely with the audiobook format.

The book was made into a now lost silent film… Or at least partly lost. It has an IMDb entry (where I swiped this poster) but its summary there includes a plot spoiler that I was sorry I had looked at before I got to that part of the book.

I’m fascinated by Packard’s decision to create a female character who is a bit like his previous male hero, Jimmy Dale, The Gray Seal. I wonder if Hollywood inspired him to create a vehicle for Pearl White? According to what I have seen online both the book and the film were released in 1920, although perhaps the book was serialized in magazines or newspapers before the single-volume publication. Packard was good at keeping the story moving along, and while the dialogue does get a bit thick, I liked it better than the last Jimmy Dale that I read. By the way, I got into Jimmy Dale after doing some research on old time radio shows including the Green Hornet. The “Gray Seal” clearly inspired the “Hornet seal” (a calling card left at the scene of the crime to tease police or rival crooks) , and the idea of a masked hero as wealthy playboy with a secret identity that the police think is a crook, but who really is fighting crime in ways the police cannot. He also has a utility belt that may have been part of the inspiration for Batman’s counterpart. But his is mostly lock picking and safe cracking tools.

One huge difference from all subsequent characters, the Gray Seal actually took his orders from a mysterious woman… blackmailing him into doing one good deed after another, and as much of a leader of a double life as he was. But even more mysterious about it.

The White Moll also has a mysterious male Adventurer in her underground life, so I was half expecting do you have the book morph into another Gray Seal sequel. But he is not Jimmy Dale.

These books are certainly not great literature, but they are the kind of entertainment people could turn to before the days of comic books, radio and television.

Posted in 1920s, fiction, Librivox, literature, media studies, movies, popular culture, Project Gutenberg, writing

JFK: A president who read Dante

On this day in 1963 we had half-day sessions at my high school, and I headed home with a last-minute stop at the drug store across the street from the house. The radio was on in the store; I don’t think I heard a whole broadcast, just a “headline” about President Kennedy being shot in Dallas. Both my parents were home when I walked in — dad worked at the Roger Smith Hotel right down the street — and I told them my news:

“Did you hear President Kennedy has been shot?”

I’ll always remember my father’s reply:
“OK, what’s the punchline?”

(Unfortunately, one of my favorite books at the time was an anthology called Sick Jokes, Grim Cartoons and Bloody Marys. Not the best start for an eventual journalism career.)

But I pretty quickly convinced my folks that this was not another sick joke, and we turned on the TV. It feels like we never turned it off.

While we watched, my dad remembered meeting JFK just before his election, when he arrived at that Waterbury hotel after midnight on a cold, rainy November morning, delayed hours after his scheduled arrival, and was greeted by a crowd of 40,000 or 50,000 on the city green. The election was in two days, and that 3 a.m. crowd in a blue-collar factory city was later taken as a sign that we were about to get one of the most-loved presidents in history.

“I want to see us build here in this country a strong and vital and progressive society,” he said, “that will serve as an inspiration to all those people who desire to follow the road that we have followed.”

In his speech that morning he quoted Thomas Paine and FDR and Lincoln, but also Dante:

“Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the coldblooded and the sins of the warmhearted on a different scale. Better the occasional faults of a government living in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”

I didn’t get to meet JFK that night, but my dad did, as “resident manager” of the city’s biggest hotel, the one whose second-floor balcony Kennedy spoke from that cold morning. Dad had the candidate autograph a photo to my mother and me. But not to himself, since, as a World War II Army veteran and Eisenhower Republican, he felt he had to support Nixon. (I was immensely proud of him in ’72 when he voted for McGovern.)

Kennedy also promised that, if elected, he would come back to Waterbury to say thanks — and dad smuggled me and a friend into the hotel to see him that time, Oct. 17, 1962. He called the 3 a.m. 1960 visit the high point of his campaign, and he promised he would be back in ’64. His brother Bobby came instead. There’s a plaque in front of the old hotel building.


Posted in Connecticut, Government, History, memories
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